Monday, June 20, 2005

"The Circle Is Now Complete": Revenge of the Sith and Some Random Remarks on the Whole Darned Series

As I mentioned in the post below, the Meridians saw Revenge of the Sith Saturday evening. I must admit that my expectations weren't especially high for this film and it is for that reason that it didn't disappoint. But then again, it was not without its problems.
As I was watching the Industorious Clock that I also linked to in the post below, it occurred to me that the thing that appealed to me most about it is its cleanness. The software that drives it is hoop-tee-doo, no doubt, but the images we see are black and white, and that's someone's hand erasing and then writing the numbers we see. No flash, no curlicues. Baroque, no? I must admit to preferring the first three films released to this now-completed second trilogy for the same reason. What we see places us in the world(s) of those older films and, as best I can recall, functions only to advance the plot. Big moments like the jumps to hyperspace were cool precisely because such moments didn't come too often. Too often in this second trilogy, though, I got/get the feeling that much of what we're seeing, we're seeing simply because the makers can create these images now--not because they're needed to advance the story. Rococo. Worse: as Fearful Syzygy notes in this excellent harangue, "because they can," Mr. Lucas has taken to diddling with the first three films--adding and rewriting scenes with CGI effects right along with those films' original painted-glass and plastic-models-photographed-in-daylight scenes, as though visual incompatibility, for an obsessionist like George Lucas, weren't that big a deal. So: we get a visual fussiness that I, at least, found more distracting than engaging. And as for the script--the dialogue is wooden, the only verbal flourishes belonging to Yoda. But that syntax tic of his got to be so distracting that even when he and Obi-Won are talking about the possibility of Obi-Won's being mistaken about Anakin, when Yoda says, "I hope right you are," it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. Of all the things that can kill a film, causing the audience to laugh for the wrong reasons has to be among the worst. But, again: Yoda's role, like that of CGI generally in these newer films, is much more prominent. His speech pattern is SO present in this film that it doesn't seem wise and cryptic, as it had in The Empire Strikes Back. It starts to distract you from the emotional weight of what he's actually saying.
It's telling, then, that for me the only emotional poignancy I felt as I watched this new film was NOT in the early and middle sections as Anakin is torn between his loyalties to the Jedi and his temptations toward the Dark Side, but at the end, where we see images of his visual transformation into Darth Vader juxtaposed with images from Padme's giving birth to Luke and Leia and then dying. No special effects needed: just the simple, inescapable message that we're seeing births and deaths . . . and complicated to say just who is being born and who is dying. Chiaroscuro and emotion: the good ol' media of the Baroque that the first trilogy exploited so well.
It also strikes me, now that the six films are done, that the whole series is really about Darth Vader's rise and fall, which was a startling thing to think about. That was clearly not the impression the first three films left us with: those are all about Luke's rising up as a Jedi in a galaxy almost emptied of them. Thus, the whole series now has a Paradise Lost-like feel to it, with Vader, because we now know why he was drawn to the Dark Side, is now more of a sympathetic character, even though we recognize him to be evil. The less one knows about one's enemy, the less chance there is to end up understanding him or her--or, worse, end up liking that person. And that leads me to wonder if Mr. Lucas intended for that to happen. Or will he go about like John Milton did, denying that it was his purpose to make Satan the hero of his poem?
And what of the originally-promised final trilogy? Mrs. Meridian and I speculated that if Lucas doesn't think he'll live long enough or stay healthy enough to finish all three of them, they may never get done. That's his right, of course, but I can't help but think that it's Lucas' control of everything that leads to at least some of the later films' problems. Anyway, it would be sad if they didn't get made. Mrs. Meridian's take on the films is that they're about politics and that, at the conclusion of Episode VI, there's now a political vacuum with Vader's death, no matter how happy the galaxy is. There can't be happily-ever-after without political stability. And even in the case of my far-less-sophisticated reading of the film as Good vs. Evil, I can see that the present triumph of Good will be harder to sustain without an acknowledged, powerful, democratic government.
So: Mr Lucas, if you're reading this blog--and I know that everybody who is anybody does--get cracking. But DO spend some money on a scriptwriter, please. Stories about politics don't need lots of special effects. They DO, however, require compelling language, and compelling language is still the most powerful special effect of all.

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